EU Eyes Sanctions for Airlines, Tourism Companies Aiding Migrants Entrance to Belarus

The European Union is expecting to introduce the fifth package of sanctions against Belarus. However, the embattled country will not be their only target.

The EU is planning to target airlines and travel groups in the sanctions, which come after the organization accused Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of purposefully using migrants to destabilize neighboring countries. According to a draft of the sanction obtained by the Associated Press, the affected companies are being accused of helping Belarus bring migrants to the country. From there, the migrants would be encouraged by the country to cross international borders into Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania.

Belarus air company Belavia has been chiefly named in the new sanctions as the primary airline carrying migrants. The document states that "migrants wishing to cross the Union's external border have been flying to Minsk onboard flights operated by Belavia from a number of Middle Eastern countries, in particular Lebanon, UAE (United Arab Emirates) and Turkey."

Other companies named in the sanctions include Cham Wing Airlines, state tourism company Tsentrkurort, passport and visa distributor VIP Grub, and the Belarus President Property Management Directorate.

Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who spoke at the EU on Wednesday, has expressed her approval of the proposed sanctions.

"Sanctions do work," she told EU leaders. "Sanctions split the elites, destroy corruption schemes, and divide people around Lukashenko."

The sanctions against Belarus and the companies accused of aiding them are expected to be approved in the coming days.

For more reporting from The Associated Press, see below.

Migrants at Airport
According to a draft of the sanction obtained by the Associated Press, the affected companies are being accused of helping Belarus bring migrants to the country. From there, the migrants would be encouraged by the country to cross international borders into Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania. Above, Iraqis speak to the press after arriving at the airport in Baghdad after being flown home from the Belarusian capital Minsk on November 18, 2021. Photo by Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP via Getty Images

Tsikhanouskaya appealed Wednesday to the European Union not to forget the plight of ordinary citizens and political prisoners in the former Soviet country, as the EU prepares new sanctions to prevent a security crisis at its borders blamed on Lukashenko.

Tsikhanouskaya told EU lawmakers that "882 of my fellow citizens have been recognized to be in prison for exercising basic political rights people in the rest of Europe take for granted." She urged the 27-country bloc not to recognize Lukashenko or his government, and to boost support to ordinary citizens.

"It is getting late. Since August 2020, there have been ample gestures and expressions of solidarity. Belarusians were praised for reigniting their faith in democracy and human dignity," she said. "Is it not the turn of Europeans to demonstrate their commitment to those values with action?"

Cham Wing Airlines operates flights from Syria to Belarus. It stands accused of ramping up flights from Damascus to Minsk over the summer and setting up new offices in the Belarus capital to better organize the shuttles.

The EU claims Tsentrkurort helped at least 51 Iraqis obtain visas to Belarus and organized bus transport for them to the borders.

The Hotel Minsk company and Hotel Planeta, which are linked to the Belarus President Property Management Directorate, are accused of lodging migrants aiming to reach the border.

The draft sanctions listing says the VIP Grub "organizes trips to Belarus with the explicit intention of facilitating migration to the EU. VIP Grub actively advertises migration to the EU."

Meanwhile, Ukraine launched a special operation on its border with Belarus aimed at boosting security to stop migrants from entering. It comes as hundreds of people, mostly from the Middle East, remain stranded in Belarus at the Polish border, trapped as forces from the two countries face off.

Ukrainian authorities said last Friday that they intercepted 15 people of Middle Eastern descent attempting to cross in from Belarus -- the first such incident on the Ukrainian border since the security crisis flared at the EU frontiers.

Ukraine shares a 1,084-kilometer (678-mile) border with Belarus, and Ukrainian Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskiy has announced plans to build a fence on the borders with Belarus and Russia in the wake of the incident.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya at EU
Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya addresses the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, November 24, 2021. AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias